Representative of the countless number of men displaced by the Great Depression, George and Lennie, whom Steinbeck himself commented was not meant to represent "insanity at all but the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men." As such, he and George and Slim are somewhat stereotypical in a novella that ends in the same place where it has begun, dramatizing "the tragedy of frustrated hopes" that fate inevitably crushes in the disenfranchised.
- Lennie Small
Perhaps representative of the youthful hope that should never die in a man's heart, Lennie Small is unable to survive in the harsh world of the "bindle stiff" without the smarter, wiser George Milton. Described as somewhat Neanderthal, Lennie trods behind George with
a shapeless ...face, with large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulder; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely.
He possesses no complexity of thought, able only to retain simple directions from George, but his heart holds tenaciously to the dream of future happiness when he and George can own their own farm where he will have rabbits to pet. His youthful optimism makes him the keeper of the dream; sadly, with his death, the dream dies, too, as the "frustrated hopes" of George, Candy, and Crooks die, as well.
- George Milton
Much like the mouse alluded to in the title taken from Robert Burns's famous poem, George is furtive, quick, suspicious, small and dark, with sharp features and darting eyes. Even though George becomes annoyed with Lennie and speaks of how he could get along better without him, George is pure of heart and truly cares for Lennie. When he talks with Slim, he explains that he stopped making fun of Lennie after Lennie, in his unswerving obedience, jumped into water upon George's command and nearly drowned because he could not swim.
George accepts his role of protector of Lennie, acknowledging that Lennie, with his Samson-like strength is also his protector--"because you got me, and I got you"--but at times George's yearning for more overwhelms him and leaves him somewhat bitter. After Lennie inadvertently kills the temptress Curley's wife, with Lennie's death, their dream also dies.
"--I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we'd never do her. He usta like to her about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would."
Realizing that Curley has ever intention of shooting Lennie after discovering his wife's death, George seeks his friend in the clearing where he has instructed the child-like man to go if in trouble. With a trembling hand and broken spirit, George performs a mercy killing. When the other men arrive, Slim consoles him,"You hadda, George. I swear you hadda. Come with me."
Without even a last name provided by Steinbeck, Slim, the mule driver, is a stock character. Yet, he plays an important role as a God-like figure whose eyes seem omniscient. He is the one man who understands why George shoots Lennie to prevent an incarceration which would torture and destroy Lennie; for, Slim is a wise, practical man who acts and commands respect.
His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought.
Often described as the only heroic man in the narrative, Slim's character reminds the reader what men were before they became so dispossessed.
Lennie in Of Mice and Men is seen as a character with a very childish mind. Although he is very large and strong, he depends on George to support him. Lennie doesn't have a cruel nature, but because of his mentality he tend to cause harm to others (an example being the puppy he loved, but accidentally killed).
George, however, is the complete opposite of Lennie. George is small, but very responsible and looks after Lennie. Although throughout the book he seems annoyed with Lennie's actions, you see that he cares for him very much.
Slim is the "jerkline skinner" of the ranch. At the end of the novel he comforts George after Lennie's death and is seen as a "heroic character".